A. Drafting Phase of Writing (Prewriting – gathering ideas and concepts):

  1. Timeline. Jot down an overall timeline for your writing project. When do you want the outline complete? When do you want the first draft complete? (Ideally, you need some time to get away from your work to gain a fresh perspective on it.)
  2. Brainstorming. Most of you are already familiar with this strategy, which can be used not only in writing but also in solving all sorts of problems. You may find brainstorming a good way to get started or to get going if you are stuck. In using this strategy, you are seeking quantity of ideas, not quality. Come up with as many ideas as possible without letting your inner critic take over; you can decide later which ideas you like and which you want to revise or eliminate.
  3. Work/idea web. Put circles around main ideas or concepts. Draw lines to connecting ideas, and you can write in conjunctions along the lines. You are concept "mapping" your way through your ideas. The process may generate new ideas, so it is like brainstorming. Writing is a process of continually linking ideas together. You can do work webbing/mapping to find your way around your ideas.
  4. Outline. You can do outlines for your entire paper (big picture) and for each section (micro-picture). Take the creative ideas you have developed and use your critical thinking skills to organize them in a logical manner.

B. First Draft (There is no way around this one – sit down and do it!)

Think of your outline as a skeleton. To write your first draft, take a section of your outline (probably starting with the introduction, to help you clarify where you want to go with the whole project) and look over the notes you have which relate to that section. Then try to "put some meat on the bones" of that part of the skeleton, writing as many sentences or paragraphs as necessary to cover that material. Do not let your inner critic distract you from getting down the main ideas covering that section; let the ideas flow freely. You will edit your writing later. (Creative and critical thought processes are different and can interfere with each other, which is why you should avoid negative thoughts during the brainstorming or idea mapping process as well as during this "meat on the bones" process.) If you have the creative energy to keep moving to another section in your outline, go ahead. Before roughing out each section, look over the notes you have written related to that section of the outline "skeleton," then let your creative ideas flow to put meat on the bones of the skeleton without interference from your critical thought processes. (If you prefer to concentrate on the first section and revise it some first before moving on, you can do so. Just remember not to let your critical faculties distract you from the creative flow of the first draft. See Section C.)

C. Revising Phase of Writing ("fine tuning" – sharpening up your first efforts).

After you think you have included the most important points you wanted to incorporate into a section, take a break. Come back to that section and look at it again after a few minutes. (Or if you roughed out the entire paper at one sitting, take a longer break.) Check your notes related to the section and make sure that you did not leave out any key facts or ideas. You will probably want to have one key idea per paragraph, with one or more sentences explaining or supporting that idea.

Check to see that the order of your paragraphs is logical. Match them up with your outline skeleton. If you like the order of the paragraphs but they do not match up with the outline, you may need to revise the outline. (Remember this principle at each stage of the writing process; if you decide at any point that you need to edit the outline, that is fine. Just make sure your text follows the revised outline.)

Then go paragraph by paragraph and examine each sentence you have included to see if it is worth keeping. Does the sentence provide necessary information? If not, consider deleting it. Does the sentence belong in this paragraph? If not, move it elsewhere if you really want to keep it. Is the sentence clear? If not, rewrite it now or mark it as "vague" and rewrite it later when your mind is fresher. Is it wordy? If so, try to break it down into two or more sentences that are more concise.


What tense should I use? Who is my target audience for this work? Use the past tense. Write to informed members of the scientific community.

Here is a list of specific things to look for as you review your work:

  1. Descriptive language – instead of "it turned a strange color", use "it was supposed to turn red but instead it turned a dark purple, almost black color."
  2. Redundancy – can the same thing be said a different way?
  3. Relevant – is this part of the text necessary? Why is it needed here?
  4. Cut and paste – don’t be afraid to delete or move sections, or suggest this if you are peer reviewing.
  5. Use the most descriptive verbs possible – review verbs for possible upgrades.
  6. Clear writing – does this make sense? Does it flow well?

Hints of things to avoid:

1. Avoid "many" and "much" – be more exact whenever possible. This is different than using "approximately".

Poor example – I conducted many trials of spectrum analysis that served as a calibration baseline for the data.

Better to write – I conducted twelve trials…

2. Avoid slang, conversational language, and cliché.

Poor example – "The two atoms in the bond were hanging together."

Better – The two atoms were covalently bonded.

3. Avoid use of "to be" type phrases except as a helping verb.

Example – "We did an experiment involving rocks and minerals".

Instead use: We conducted….We designed…We botched…(just kidding, your instructors would not allow it!)

Peer Review - Get someone else’s perspective on your work. A peer reviewer should see him/herself as a "writing coach." Constructive criticism helps you as a writer. Use teamwork with a partner as you help each other with your work.

What should a "peer review" person look for as they read your work?

Answer – That person should look for the six things listed above (as well as for the three "things to avoid"). The same principles apply to checking someone else’s work as to checking one's own work. The reviewer should write comments IN PENCIL ON THE DRAFT PAPER. Don’t be afraid to write constructive comments.

Final thoughts:

Writing is a process, a thinking process. Your first attempts at pulling your investigation together into a form that is logical and makes good sense probably will need WORK. THAT IS OK. In fact, it is normal. It only means that it will need revising to become QUALITY WORK. SEEK HELP when you are stuck; that’s a smart thing to do. Sometimes smart people need to learn to BE PATIENT with themselves.